As a child, did you ever play opposite day? Everything someone said you would pretend they said the opposite.
Funnily enough, this is a yoga practice straight out of the Yoga Sutras!
Sutra 2.33 and 2.34 say:
2.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
2.34: “Negative feelings, such as violence, are damaging to life, whether we act upon them ourselves, or cause or condone them in others. They are born of greed, anger or delusion, and may be slight, moderate or intense. Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.”
When you’re feeling sadness or anger, what if you cultivated feelings of happiness? When you’re feeling doubt, what if you tried on confidence? And if you’re feeling broken-hearted, what if you felt gratitude and love?
The science of opposites
Scientific research shows you can actually fake out the brain, hence the popular slogan “fake it till you make it.” A 2012 study published in Psychological Science proved that if you smile even when you’re not happy the physiological change in your body alone can fool your brain and help relieve stress. Amy Cuddy’s popular TED Talk on Power Poses drew from her research that proves assuming perceived powerful poses can help you feel more confident even if you were scared or uncertain before striking a pose. And a 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that forcing yourself to be happy by listening to happy music even if you aren’t feeling up to it has the potential to make you happy — just like Patanjali suggested thousands and thousands of years ago! When you’re feeling sad do, think, and behave the opposite!
The opposites mantra
Last week I attended a summer camp for adults where Jonathan Fields, founder of Camp GLP and author of How to Live a Good Life, challenged attendees to use the mantra “What if I…” as a tool to break down the walls that keep you stuck in your life and work. I’m calling this the Opposites Mantra as a tool to get you to think the opposite and try something brand new.
- What if I talk to the person who I’m afraid to talk to?
- What if it doesn’t have to be hard?
- What if I do the crazy thing that everyone tells me I shouldn’t do?
- What if I get a new job?
- What if I stop doing the one thing that brings the most misery in my life?
- What if?
Using this mantra won’t give you any answers, but it will give you permission to find out. It will ask you to think the opposite and break free of constraints that may be holding you back from living your own good life. This mantra may prevent the negative thoughts and actions from cementing into your way of being and give space for more positive, beneficial opportunities.
Opposites in Yoga Nidra
The practice of iRest Yoga Nidra also draws upon the power of opposites to strengthen the brain. In this powerful meditative practice proven to help soldiers with combat stress find relief from their symptoms opposite thoughts are used as a tool to show practitioners how all feelings and emotions are temporary. This provides a feeling of liberation and a sense that scary emotions and feelings don’t define us.
Opposites and Dualistic Philosophy
In Classical Yoga Philosophy, opposites are inherent in the construction of the cosmos. As a binary and dualistic philosophy, Patanjali posits that prakriti, or nature, is separate from purusha, or the Ultimate All Knowing Self. Everything that changes, such as our thoughts and emotions and bodies, are governed by the realm of prakriti. Everything that is unchanging, like God, is governed by the realm of purusha. In Patanjali’s understanding, these are separate entities; other philosophical systems believe that purusha and prakriti are all part of the same thing and that the division of one into many is the first and ultimate obstacle to enlightenment.
Practice opposites for more joy
Now that you have a range of yoga-inspired practices to change your perspective from one of fear and uncertainty to love and confidence, it’s time to take action!
Choose one of the above practices to implement today. You can try a yoga nidra meditation, use the “What if” mantra, strike a power pose when you’re feeling scared, or listen to some happy music when you’re feeling down. Chances are you might already do some of these activities naturally!
Then head on over to The Yoga Life Facebook group and let us know what, if any, changes you notice in your mood, energy levels, perspective on life, etc.
Yay for Opposite Day!
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